Review: Happy Hour at Casa Dracula

happy-hour.jpgOkay, how’s this for a cover blurb? “Vampires. Margaritas. Mayhem. What’s a girl to do when she’s hidden away at the home of sophisticated vampires and her ex-boyfriend wants to drive a stake through her heart?”

Yeah. Pretty bad, huh. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t trust a book by its cover blurb. (Dear gourd, but cover blurbs are awful. Do these people even pretend the read the books?) So when I came across Marta Acosta’s Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, with its stylishly designed cover art and attractive $3.99 bargain bin pricetag, I gave it the benefit of a one-chapter doubt. By page 23 I’d come to the conclusion that it was at least good enough to fill some of the time before All Together Dead comes out in paperback.

And, as it turns out, Happy Hour wasn’t half bad. The heroine, Milagro de Los Santos (literally “Miracle of the Saints”) is a sassy, smart Hispanic woman trying to make it as a writer, caught between the conflicting personalities of a fake leopard-clad sexpot and a young woman grieving over her one and only sexual encounter, back in college. The fact that she, and the book’s villain, attended “F.U.” contributes to the charm and silliness of this little beach read.

Milagro’s adventures begin with a lusty encounter with a mysterious stranger who turns out to suffer from a genetic disorder – leaving her infected with the selfsame disorder. The disorder causes photosensitivity, altered vision, fertility problems, great (if pale) skin, long life, and pica. Some members of his family embrace the fact that this makes them sound suspiciously like vampires; others – including Milagro’s new friend – reject it and try to live like more-or-less normal people. Unfortunately for them, there are bad guys afoot who want to do something vague and evil to them, and due to an inconvenient love triangle, Milagro is their lever.

Cue mistaken identity, secrets revealed, Mexican meals so scrumptious you can practically smell them off the page, sex, confused small-town goths, obvious but not awkward allusions to racism as experienced by Latinos and vampires, suspicious outsiders, blood-sipping, ridiculous circumstances that lead the heroine into unnecessary danger, even more ridiculous coincidences, love triangles that conjoin into love octagons, quasi-redemptions, and lots of references to Milagro’s exceptional tatas.

In the end, the book is (to repeat a word overused in this review) a tad ridiculous. But it’s a good sort of ridiculous, and the unusual combination of romance, vampirism, and Latina culture is a lot of fun. My only real criticism – and I’m not feeling too passionate about this – is Milagro’s character development. I kept wondering if she was bipolar, or maybe two different people, or maybe just slightly sloppily written. She is a respectable young woman trying to make it out on her own, an aspiring political-horror writer working as a literary consultant and gardener, trying to resolve her cold relationship with her mother, looking for that certain something that will pull her life together. And then, you suddenly realize that she is now something entirely different, in impractical loud shoes and clothes, highly-sexed, impetuous, and shallow. I think the aim was to illustrate the dichotomous nature of a young woman while highlighting the changes the infection wrought on her personality, but the end result is a trifle inconsistent.

Still – a fun book, and if Amazon is to believed, the first of more to come.

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